(Lilayni and Damon)
Appleby Book 2
She made one fatal mistake and lost him.
Lilayni Perrot is in Manhattan on a mission to win back the man she loves… at any cost.
But billionaire Damon Solarin won’t be won back. He comes from a gritty past, and his trust once lost is lost forever. He knows an empty promise of love when he hears it. Lilayni left him once. She shouldn’t have returned. Now he’s determined to have his revenge. Love be damned.
And more disaster lurks around the corner for Lilayni. The nemesis that tore her and Damon apart isn’t finished with her. There’s a heavy price to pay, and she’ll be the one to pay it.
Threats and secrets threaten to destroy Damon and her once again, this time forever. Lilayni has only one chance to convince an unyielding Damon of her love, but her time is running out fast.
STANDALONE Contemporary Romance | Appleby Book 2
Full-length novel: 252 print pages.
Steamy love scenes (readers: 18+)
Read chapters below.
“I liked the twists I didn’t see coming in this one. I was glad to see a peek in to the others (Molly and Jake). I really loved the ending and epilogue.” (Amazon US, September 05, 2016)
“It is a fantastic romantic book with a lot of action not once did I get bored. So much was happening I will highly recommend it.” (Amazon US, August 28, 2016)
“From page one your hooked in and just cant help fighting alongside Lilayni. Its very intense lots of twists and turns that leave you grasping each turn of the page. Very well written and very descriptive transporting you into the story.” (Goodreads, September 03, 2016)
“I enjoyed book #2 in this series. It was well written and edited. The main characters were easy to fall in love with, and they had great chemistry.” (Goodreads, September 09, 2016)
This was her last chance.
If she failed today, she would never see him again.
Lilayni Perrot stepped back into the ice panther’s shadow. It loomed over her, ready to pounce with water dripping from its colourless fangs like crystal blood. The big cat sculpture looked about as approachable as the man she hunted tonight.
She ran nervous hands over her slim dress. It reached mid-thigh, leaving her shapely legs open to notice. And its green colour—a darker emerald than her eyes—made her wavy red tresses glow as they flowed down her back almost to her waist. A light but artful touch of makeup to enhance her beauty, and she knew she stood out a mile in this crowd of the best-dressed people in New York.
She needed that. She needed to stand out tonight. She needed him to see her and not take his eyes off her.
He didn’t know she was here, and surprise was her only advantage. Now if she could just dig up the courage to approach him.
But she took another step back, moistening suddenly dry lips with the tip of her tongue.
People milled about in the hotel’s chandelier-lit grand hall. The men wore sharp evening suits, and the women dazzled in rainbow colours of designer wear—short sexy minis all the way to floor-sweeping ball gowns. Glasses clinked, and laughter rose among the flowing chatter. Manhattan’s big shots were out in force this mild September evening to back their favourite charities.
But business was happening too. Deals were being made and completed with the shake of a hand or a clap on the back. And he was there, in the middle of a group of business men who were standing off to one side of the hall and ignoring everyone else as they talked.
And like a star in its element, he outshone them all.
His six-foot-four frame placed him above most in the group. And his fitted dark suit couldn’t hide a formidable muscular build like that of a top rugby player. His black hair and beard were cropped close and neat, highlighting his striking features. But it was the way his light-copper eyes glowed against his dark skin, almost as if lit from within, that caught people’s attention and held it.
Nobody took just one look at Damon Solarin. And when that sinfully handsome face broke into an easy grin, you were lost forever.
“Champagne?” A young waiter popped up by her side, expertly balancing a tray of champagne flutes in one hand.
He was lanky and blond, probably not much older than her twenty-six years, and the smile he gave her was one of pure male appreciation rather than anything professional.
“Non, merci.” She winced a little at falling back into her mother tongue because of the distraction.
His smile widened to a grin. “French, huh? I’ve been to Paris, myself. You from there?”
Nice guy, but he must be new to his job, because from her experience the wait staff at these exclusive functions were supposed to be seen and not heard, and certainly not chatting up the guests. She glanced around to make sure they hadn’t come under the watchful eye of one of his managers. Better to end this swiftly and send him on his way before he lost his job. “I am from Nice. If you will excuse me?” She flashed him a friendly smile and made to move away.
“You… um… here with someone?”
“I…” She looked to where Damon stood oblivious and far from her. “I am.”
“Oh.” Disappointment dimmed his eyes as he followed her gaze to Damon. Then he frowned, and a knowing look dawned on his face. He looked her up and down. “I’ll wish you luck then,” he murmured and turned to leave.
Heat coursed up Lilayni’s cheeks. Maybe he wasn’t such a stranger to these parties after all, because it sounded very much like he’d pegged her as one of those women who made a career out of coming to these functions and targeting the billionaires in attendance. But wasn’t that exactly what she was doing? And wasn’t she more desperate than most? She’d woken up in France yesterday and crossed an ocean today to make it to this fundraiser, only because Damon would be here. But to know her desperation showed on her face to all and sundry made her squirm.
“Wait!” She stopped the waiter in his tracks. His only job here was to serve champagne and not pass judgement. He needed to remember that. And with haughty dignity she took a champagne flute from his tray. “Merci.” And she stalked away.
It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. It didn’t matter how they judged her. She’d come here for a reason, and hiding wouldn’t help. She had to go to Damon. She had to make him see her again.
The champagne flute cooled her fingers as she made her way to the centre of the hall, and she took a quick sip. She hadn’t planned on drinking anything tonight. She needed all her wits about her. Besides, the nervous butterflies crowding her stomach had made the thought of alcohol unbearable. But the chilled champagne had a surprisingly calming effect, and she took another sip.
Damon was still talking animatedly to several men in the group. Being half-turned away from her, he hadn’t seen her yet. He smiled at something the man opposite him said, cocked his head to the side and rubbed a hand over his dark beard as if considering. Then he nodded and spoke again, his hand gestures expressive as he said something that had his companions laughing in response.
Lilayni’s steps faltered. He wouldn’t extend that friendliness to her tonight. Damon was charming when he chose to be. And his fierce intellect saw people for exactly what they were. He could be more diplomatic than a diplomat. But cross him, and as she had learned to her cost, he gave no second chances.
In the month since their split he’d barely acknowledged she was alive. But she couldn’t forget him so easily. Her heart wouldn’t let her. She’d given it to him once, and it had never wanted to return since. Maybe today he would finally listen and forgive.
And on a deep breath she forced her feet forward, taking her closer to him.
Her stomach dropped like a stone. But she quickly pasted on a professional smile and turned to face the tall man approaching her. “Cass. It is a surprise to see you here.”
Cass Walker was a Hollywood darling. And though he was always behind the camera never in front of it, he still carried off the hot-surfer look to perfection with his chiselled features, and his blond hair scraped back in a short ponytail. He was also one of her clients. She’d designed the interiors for the thirty-million-dollar Beverly Hills’ mansion he’d bought last year.
“I’m on a financing drive for a movie, and this is one of the best places to be tonight.” He surveyed her, his blue eyes shining with interest. “Last I heard, you were in France. Quite a bonus running into you here.”
Lilayni shot him another polite smile. If ever there was a man convinced of his irresistibility to women, it was Cass Walker. When she’d worked for him, she’d been under no doubt he’d wanted to be more than just her client. It had been before her doomed affair with Damon, but even back then she’d been leery of jumping into meaningless relationships. She’d only been with one man before Damon—a college sweetheart who’d grown distant after she moved to New York. Cass didn’t know it, but he was sniffing up the wrong tree with her.
She took a step away. “It was nice meeting you again. I wish you success with your project.”
“Hold on, Lilayni. How long you in Manhattan for?”
“I have not decided…”
Cass smiled, a lopsided grin that would have had most women dropping flat at his feet.
Idiot! She berated herself. She should have told him she was returning to France first thing tomorrow morning. Or better yet, tonight.
“I’m here a couple of days myself. But now I’m tempted to stay longer.” He moved closer. “What say we ditch this place and find somewhere quieter?”
She took a nervous gulp of her champagne, her usual battery of excuses for politely turning men down not cutting it in this case. How to say ‘no’ to an ego-heavy film executive without losing a future client and potentially the whole of Hollywood in the process? This was one business manoeuvre her long-term mentor Mimi Lalique had never taught her.
“Cass Walker.” The deep rich voice behind her had her stiffening.
Damon sauntered up to them, tall and powerful, his teeth flashing white with his smile, and his striking eyes assessing as he regarded Cass. Lilayni’s breath caught as his musky wood scent floated over her, stirring a craving deep inside. She couldn’t tear her gaze from him.
But he ignored her and held out his hand to Cass. “I’m—”
“Damon Solarin.” Cass grasped his hand in a firm handshake. “You’re no stranger in these parts.”
Damon inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I heard good things about this new project of yours. I’d be interested in knowing more.”
“You would?” Cass’ eyes gleamed with the prospect of new business, and Lilayni was forgotten. “I hadn’t pegged you as a potential. I’ve heard you’re not into high-risk investments.”
“Times change, and I’m looking to widen the company’s portfolio.”
“I could give you a rundown now.”
Damon smiled, and taking a barely noticeable step closer to her, slipped an arm around her waist. Lilayni stiffened and took another gulp of champagne to hide her shock. This was the first time he’d touched her in a month.
“I won’t take your time tonight, Cass,” Damon said. “I’m sure you have others to catch before they leave. Have your people meet mine, and we’ll go from there.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Cass murmured, a small frown creasing his brow as his gaze dropped to Damon’s arm around her.
“Have a good evening, Cass.” Damon flashed him another smile. “If you’ll excuse us?” And with that he urged her away.
She reached just above his shoulder in her high heels. Still, she had to almost run to keep up with his long purposeful strides. But all she could think about was his arm still around her. Heat flowed to her from the comforting solidness of his body, and she glanced up at him, needing to say something, anything. But his jaw was set, and he stared ahead, all sense of the relaxed charm he’d used with Cass gone.
They reached the entrance to the hall, and she hesitated, digging back on her heels.
She had to stop him from putting up that wall between them again.
Now or never.
“Damon, we must talk.”
He stopped in his stride and released her, and she ached inside at the sudden feeling of loss. But then his stony gaze rested a moment on her bare skin above the neckline of her dress. Lilayni fought the urge to bring her hand up there in a protective gesture.
Her necklace. The one he’d given her. The one that was no longer there.
He’d had it made just for her, a delicate gold chain and its pendant—a fiery oval ruby surrounded by a halo of glittering black diamonds. He’d said it symbolized the two of them together, and she’d proudly worn it everywhere in the eight months she’d been with him.
No, do not ask where it is. Because if he did ask, she’d have to lie. She had to get it back, and soon, otherwise things would never be right between her and Damon.
“Where are you staying tonight, Lilayni?”
She stared at him, nonplussed, the question unexpected. “Here in this hotel. I have a room.”
Reaching out, he took the champagne flute from her hand. “Then it’s time you called it a night.” He glanced past her and gave a small nod. “Roger will see you to your room.”
She looked over her shoulder to see the familiar form of Roger, Damon’s bodyguard, coming towards them. Roger was ex-military, tall and lean, with cropped ginger hair and sharp blue eyes. He was solidly built but was nowhere near as imposing as Damon. Seeing them together, most people would wonder why Damon needed a bodyguard. But Roger was more than that. He was Damon’s right-hand man, and if Damon wanted something done, Roger made it happen.
“Make sure Miss Perrot gets to her room,” Damon said to him.
Roger gave a brisk nod and then waited for her.
She glared at Damon. “I do not intend to go to my room. Not yet.”
“That’s enough partying, don’t you think?” He held up her champagne flute. “Or were you working up to ending the night with Cass Walker?”
She gasped. “I was not going anywhere with him, even if you had not shown up.”
“Then there’s no need for you to stay on here.”
He turned away, but she caught his arm. “Damon, I came to speak to you.”
“Get some sleep, Lilayni. You had a long flight today. You must be tired.” And with that he strode back into the hall, leaving her chagrined beside a patient Roger.
* * *
Lilayni waited for the elevator in the hotel lobby while Roger loomed like an unnerving dark-suited presence beside her. She shot him a glance from beneath her lashes. He stood poker-straight, his gaze riveted to the elevator’s closed door, and his features deadpan. It was like being escorted somewhere for interrogation by the secret service. For heaven’s sake, she wasn’t planning on running away.
If she’d wanted to, she could have walked away from Damon’s high-handed order at the party itself. But no matter how Damon had worded it, he had rescued her from Cass, and he’d cared enough to think she might be tired after her flight from France. Was he finally thawing towards her? It was strings of hope, but it was far more than she’d had this past month, and she’d latch on to it with all her strength.
She cast Roger another covert glance.
She couldn’t give up. Damon now knew she was here, and he’d make it impossible for her to reach him again. Surprise was still her only friend. She had to get Damon alone somewhere he couldn’t walk away from her. But where and how?
The elevator pinged and the doors in front of them slid open revealing the empty car. Roger indicated for her to precede him into the wood-and-brass-lined interior.
And with the seed of a plan forming in her mind, she did so.
“Floor?” Roger’s hand hovered over the control panel.
“Thirty-five.” Lilayni waited for the elevator doors to slide shut before addressing his rigid back. “This is a busy time for Damon, non? He must have many people to meet before the Cooper Tower proposal on Monday.”
Roger stood staring ahead for a moment, his hands clasped in front of him, but the tips of his ears shone the pretty pink of cherry blossoms. Then he turned impassive blue eyes on her. “Very busy.” And returned to staring at the closed elevator doors, his ears glowing bright red now.
She held back a huff of irritation. He was embarrassed, and well he should be. She was no stranger to Roger. After all, she and Damon had been inseparable for nearly eight months since last Christmas. During that time Roger had always been polite but friendly to her. But now she fell into a different category altogether. Now she was the dreaded ex-girlfriend, and exes were to be guarded against at all cost.
She’d hoped her knowledge of the Cooper Tower project Damon was aiming for would have encouraged Roger to relax and spill the beans a little, but it looked like she’d have to dig more. “What is the time, Roger?”
He checked the black watch on his wrist. “Half past nine.”
“Oh, not too late. You can still go back and enjoy the party, and perhaps I can come down and see Damon when he is less angry.”
He stiffened. “We’re leaving. Damon has another meeting lined up for tonight.”
Thank you! Exactly what she’d been fishing for. If Damon had other meetings scheduled, then he wouldn’t be back at his penthouse until closer to midnight.
The elevator pinged again, and the doors slid open on the red carpeted hallway of the thirty-fifth floor. She gave her room number and allowed Roger to lope on ahead, a sudden thought leaving her frowning.
What if Damon’s meeting tonight wasn’t about business?
What if Sasha Perez was back in his life?
Angrily pushing the thought away, she hurried after Roger. At her door, she swiped her key card across the access panel while he waited to one side. “Thank you. I will be fine.” She opened the door.
With a polite nod, he left, loping back towards the bank of elevators. And with a last glance at his retreating form, Lilayni closed her room door behind her.
She hurried to the side table and picking up the room phone, called the front desk and booked a hire car before she could change her mind. If she didn’t go now, her nervousness would only strangle her. Maybe it was the champagne, but she’d act swiftly while this teeny nugget of bravado burned in her. Grabbing her black cashmere pea coat from the narrow wardrobe, she slipped it on and buttoned it up ready to face the night-time chill.
Then all of a sudden it registered that Damon had known she’d flown in from France today. That’s why he’d told her to go rest. So much for her ‘surprise attack’. He’d been waiting for her to approach all evening, and he’d kept his escape all ready.
She gave an annoyed shake of her head. Jake must have told Damon her travel plans. There was no other way Damon could have found out. The two were as close as brothers though Jake was her cousin and Damon was only his business partner. But they’d been together for the past fourteen years, ever since they were both sixteen years old. She’d visited Jake in Monaco yesterday, hoping to make him see sense and go back to Molly whom he so obviously loved, but refused to admit to. Instead, he’d tipped off Damon. He must have thought he was helping, since he’d been trying for the past month to bring them back together. But no one could help her. She needed to solve this herself.
She picked up her purse, opened the room door, and poked her head out to check the hallway. Roger was nowhere to be seen. And stepping out and closing her door, she hurried to the elevators. Hopefully her luck would hold, and she wouldn’t bump into either Damon or Roger in the lobby downstairs. Damon would have no trouble slinging her over his shoulder in front of everyone and bringing her bodily back to her room if he caught her wandering.
The thought of being picked up and carried by him sent a shiver through her. God, how she missed the unique blend of force and tenderness that was Damon. Sometimes, she’d spar with him just to push him to the edge of his impatience. But right now, she wanted far more than his impatience. She wanted his love.
She pressed the call button for the elevator and waited. There had been a time she’d thought she’d had his love. An image of Sasha Perez, beautiful and irresistible, surfaced in her mind and she frowned. He’d sworn there was nothing between him and the world-famous pop star, but Lilayni had caught them together, and the blatant love on Sasha’s face as she’d gazed up at Damon from the circle of his embrace was something Lilayni would never forget.
But what if Damon had been telling the truth? What if there wasn’t anything between Sasha and him? Doubt had her shaking her head. If only she’d stayed and listened instead of running away, she and Damon might still be together. But she’d run to Bruno Diaz that day. The one man Damon hated the very mention of.
She’d trusted Bruno. A mistake she’d paid for in more ways than one.
The elevator car pinged on arrival, and the doors opened. Lilayni straightened in determination. Damon may not give second chances, but she deserved one, and she would make him give it to her.
Lilayni released her pent-up breath only once she was in the back of the black car and pulling away from the hotel entrance. She leaned back against the seat and gazed out into the night-time traffic.
It was good to be back in Manhattan. It had been her home for five years. Jake had secured her an apprenticeship with the famous interior designer, Mimi Lalique, and she’d moved from the ocean views of the French Riviera to the hustle of the Big Apple and instantly loved it. It had also meant the death of her first relationship, which strangely had hurt less than she’d expected. She’d been too busy to dwell on it. Working for Mimi had kept her on her toes pretty much all day, every day. But those apprentice years had been worth it. Now she was making her own name with clients spanning the globe. And work would have continued to take centre stage in her life if she hadn’t kissed Damon last Christmas.
Oh, she’d met him a few times before that, and Jake always mentioned him whenever he dropped by to visit her in Manhattan. But during their brief meetings, Damon had never seemed interested beyond a casual ‘hello’. She’d felt her attraction early, and other men had become invisible to her. But he’d been so distant that she’d pushed those crazy feelings aside and buried herself in work to avoid him and the confusing mix of feelings he churned in her.
Then at Christmas, everything changed.
That Christmas they’d gathered at Jake’s chalet in Chateau Blanc in the French Alps. The champagne had overflown in abundance, and bunches of mistletoe had swung in every doorway.
Too much champagne always made her giddy, and after two glassfuls she found herself seeking the comforting straightness of a door frame to lean against.
“How much did you drink?”
Startled, she swung around to face Damon. He leaned over her with one hand resting above her head on the door frame, amusement curving his firm lips. He looked irresistible—tall, dark and solidly muscular in his fine-cut grey suit—and dangerous, very dangerous, his light eyes blazing with an intent she couldn’t decipher.
She licked her lips and breathed in his intoxicating musky maleness. Something about him terrified her, but her body didn’t want to run. It wanted to press into him, anything to dampen the burning ache curling deep in her core. “Two… no more.” Her voice was breathy.
He grinned, his dark handsome features opening with mirth, and her breath caught.
“It doesn’t agree with you, Lilayni.” He took the champagne glass from her hand and set it down on a nearby side table. “And I need you awake and responding tonight.”
“Wh–what do you mean?” Her heart thundered, and her eager mind jumped to all sorts of places. She drowned in images of the two of them entwined, his naked rugged body sliding against hers, his thick shaft…
Her cheeks blazed, and she had to stop her gaze from dropping to his trousers.
“I believe a kiss is traditional.” He pointed at the ample bunch of mistletoe hanging above them.
She could have kicked herself. How pathetic was she that a hunky man approached her for a Christmas kiss, and she jumped to fantasies of crawling all over him. God, she’d gone far too long without sex. She’d have to go out and get laid after this.
With a quick smile, she stretched up on her toes and pressed her lips to his lightly bearded cheek. Then immediately pulled back, resisting the overpowering urge to linger. “Merry Christmas.”
“Oh, Lilayni,” he murmured with an amused shake of his head. “I need better than that.” And swooping down he captured her mouth with his.
Her eyes widened in shock as his arms slipped around her and the tip of his tongue pushed against the seam of her lips. Then with a sigh, she opened to him, and closing her eyes, wrapped her arms around his neck. His kiss was demanding, and he clasped her to him, his tongue stroking hers, exploring her like he’d never get enough. Lilayni thrilled in his possession, the sweetness of him, the strength of him. But too soon he pulled away and stood staring down at her, his breathing harsh and uneven.
She could only stare back in confusion as she tried to catch her own breath.
“That…” He shook his head as if dazed. Then he grasped her hand and tugged her away from the door frame and the party raging in the long reception room. “Come with me.” It wasn’t a question, and the look in his eyes left no doubt about how this would end between them.
With a gulp, she nodded and let him lead her to a bedroom upstairs.
That day she’d given herself to him for the first time, and he’d lain with her afterwards, holding her tenderly. He’d looked into her eyes then and said, “I’ve wanted you since the day I first saw you, but I had to wait until you were ready.”
All the years she’d been busy working, he’d wanted her, and she’d never known. If only he’d made that first move before.
But she was here now. She’d put everything on hold, her work, her life, just to have a few days to convince him. This time he would know she wanted him, loved him, and no other man would do. She wouldn’t fail.
The car pulled up outside the exclusive condominium that housed Damon’s penthouse. Lilayni stepped out. The building towered above the ones nearby, rising in alternating sections all the way to the narrower segment on top where the individual penthouses were. Only residents entered, or guests given permission by residents. She was neither. But she wasn’t about to let that little detail turn her around.
Damon leaned back against the black leather of the limo’s back seat. The multicoloured city lights whooshed past the car’s tinted windows as he made his way to yet another meeting he could no longer keep his mind on.
He’d left Lilayni back at the hotel, and it was as if he’d left all his thoughts with her too. What would she be doing right now? Sleeping? Burning need rose in him at the thought of her alone in her bed. He should be with her, spooned around her soft body like they’d always slept. Hot craving shot through him, and he clenched his jaw. Those days were over for him and Lilayni. They’d ended the minute she walked out on him for Bruno Diaz. She’d made her choice that day, and he wasn’t about to stoop as low as picking up Diaz’s leftovers.
Yet his mind refused to leave her.
He shot an irritated glance at Roger in the driver’s seat. “What did Lilayni say to you?”
Roger’s blue eyes met his in the rear-view mirror. “She reckoned you might stay on at the fundraiser.”
With a disgruntled nod, Damon turned back to the window and the billboards flashing by.
She was desperate to talk to him, doing her damnedest to reel him back in, but he wouldn’t bite. Jake’s call earlier, to say Lilayni was on her way to New York, had served as a warning in disguise. He frowned. Jake had wanted him to give her a chance, but not even for Jake would he overlook what she’d done. Every time he looked at her, an image of Bruno Diaz raised its ugly head. It would be better for them both if they moved on.
But his lips firmed in a thin line as he remembered the way Cass Walker had looked at her tonight. Maybe he shouldn’t have messed with that. He should have let her go with Cass. Yet if Lilayni had so much as stepped towards the door with Cass, he’d have had no trouble breaking every bone in the man’s body.
The fierce scowl scrunching his brow reflected in the window glass, and he shook his head. He had to back off. Lilayni was already gone for him.
Trust. That was what this was all about. And Lilayni had lost that. Once trust was gone, it was gone forever. And to think he’d trusted Lilayni more than any woman ever.
Not entirely true.
He’d trusted a woman with all his heart once before. She’d had soft toffee eyes and curves to tempt a saint. They’d both been sixteen, and he hadn’t known any better. In his naivety, he’d thought they’d marry, that theirs was true love, and he’d tried to protect her from the gang life they’d both been born into. That was until he walked in on her in bed with another. She’d felt no guilt, shown no remorse, not even when her new lover had waved a gun in Damon’s face and ordered him to leave. And he had left, broken and betrayed. He’d left them to it and walked away with their laughter ringing in his ears.
Trust. So lovingly given. So heartlessly broken. That day he’d learned not to give his heart to any woman. A rule he’d come very near to breaking with Lilayni.
But now Lilayni too had betrayed him. She’d given herself to Bruno Diaz, a serpent of a man who wanted nothing more than to bring Damon to his knees.
Rage burned in him, and taking his phone from his suit pocket, he scrolled to the picture he’d kept safe—Lilayni’s ruby and diamond pendant dangling from Bruno Diaz’s fingers. Bruno had sent him this image, and the words with it had been brief—She was well worth the wait.
Damon curled his lips in disdain. Lilayni had kissed their relationship goodbye the moment she gave Bruno Diaz her pendant. Diaz must have then used her and dumped her like all the women he ploughed through. And now Lilayni was back chasing him, Damon. But he kept this picture as a reminder of the trust she’d broken. It was enough to douse any lingering need he might still have for her. A warning to stop trusting the wrong type of woman.
He pocketed the phone. Thank God for Sasha. She’d kept him sane through all this.
The scowl flashed at him in the window glass again. He had to focus. They were mere days from wrapping up the Cooper Tower proposal. It was time to forget Lilayni. “What else did you find out about Silmarin?” he asked Roger.
“They’ve built a couple of malls in Argentina and Chile, a stadium in Mexico, a resort or two. Nothing on the scale of Cooper Tower.” Roger shook his head. “They’re too small. I can’t figure out why the Cooper trustees would even give them the time of day.”
“Anything on their investors?”
“Closed book. Though I’m willing to bet there are powerful players there.”
Damon nodded. There would have to be. Cooper Tower was to be a Manhattan megastructure worth more than half-a-billion dollars. An office complex built from steel and glass and over five hundred feet tall. Companies from around the world had bid for the contract, and Jake’s architectural design along with Damon’s structural plans had won the initial round of bids. The final construction proposal was four days away, and they should have had it in the bag. But the trustees had received another offer from Silmarin Associates, a company no one had heard much about until now. There had to have been a powerful incentive to turn the trustees’ heads, and without figuring out what it was or who was behind it, he was fighting blind.
“I’ve been asking around,” he said. “But it’s like pinning a ghost. No one’s got a friggin clue, and Silmarin is a private company, so it’s a no go there. I’m hoping old Bill Cooper will be in the mood to talk a little tonight.”
“Senator Cooper is a lemming surrounded by shills,” Roger said dryly. “Even if he knows, he won’t come clean and tell you who’s behind Silmarin’s bid.”
Damon laughed. No one could accuse Roger of not telling it like it is. “Damn good thing Cooper’s not the controlling trustee, or we’d be dead in the water already. Still, I can try. Ply the man with whiskey and cigars and hope for a bite of information.” He paused, thoughtful for a moment. “Get chatting with the staff there. Things get overheard that we don’t want to miss.”
Roger nodded, his gaze remaining on the well-lit city road ahead of them.
This was all part of the game. Damon relaxed back in his seat. Sometimes they needed to grease a few wheels and dig up a few graves, and having a billionaire’s resources at his fingertips made things easier. But it was the power and respect he’d cultivated over ten years that now opened the doors at the top for him. A wry smile curved his lips. He’d learned from the best. Jake’s father, Richard Hennessy, had been more than a boss, he’d been a mentor and stand-in father to a sixteen-year-old lad who’d lost everything and all but given up on life.
Richard would have had a hoot with the Cooper puzzle. If whiskey and cigars weren’t enough to make Bill Cooper squeal, he’d have dug in and got his hands dirty with a few of the more exotic vices. Damon knew full well what tickled the senator, and it involved shackles and chains and nubile young girls who’d have a hard time proving they were legal. It was a line he’d never crossed before, and any other time it wouldn’t even be a consideration. But Cooper Tower was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If they secured this project, the North American market would be fully open to them, something even Richard hadn’t been able to crack in forty years.
A sultry redhead pouting over gold perfume zipped past on a billboard. Lilayni floated back into his mind, her long hair flowing over his pillows, her plush pink lips raised ready for his kiss…
His mood plummeted to a scowl again. Damn it. He didn’t need the distraction. Maybe after he finished with Bill Cooper tonight, he’d buy some huge mansion way out in Los Angeles and book her through an anonymous company to do the interior design for it. That should keep her busy and out of his hair for a while. But then she’d be exactly where Cass Walker was, and the thought of the two of them together had him growling low. Cass Walker would touch Lilayni over his dead body.
London. That was it. He’d buy a place near London, some old manor like the one Jake had recently renovated, and send her there. A historic house stuck deep in the countryside and far from skunks like Cass Walker.
Lilayni pushed open the condominium’s glass doors, and heels clicking confidently on the marble floor, walked into the white lobby. The uniformed doorman behind the front desk glanced up, pushed his floppy brown hair back from his eyes, and grinned.
She breathed an inner sigh of relief.
He was one of the regular staff, and he’d seen her plenty of times when she’d lived here with Damon. Now she just had to get past him.
Damon’s private penthouse took up the entire top floor of this building, and the only way to reach it was with a swipe card for the elevator. Roger changed the access code on that every couple of weeks. Her old card wouldn’t work now. Her only other hope was to get the doorman to key her in. Hopefully Damon hadn’t mentioned to the eager-looking young man that she was now an ex-girlfriend.
She turned on her best smile, the one guaranteed to charm any man off his feet. “Bonsoir, Matt. How are you?”
“Hey, Miss Perrot. Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“I have been busy in Europe.”
“Oh yeah, Mr Solarin was there last week, wasn’t he?”
“Oui, we were together.” That wasn’t an entire lie, but she wasn’t going to mention that Damon had frozen her off with icy politeness every time they’d seen each other. “But I am in a little trouble. I returned from France only today, and my card, it has not been updated.” She flashed him another winsome smile.
His dark eyes widened, and he cleared his throat. “I can code the elevator for you, but Mr Davis will have to update your card.”
“That is fine. Thank you so much, Matt.”
Roger wouldn’t update her card anytime soon. Most likely Damon would throw her out tonight itself. But she’d have her say first.
Matt picked up his keys and accompanied her to the elevator bank, which was in a marbled recess to one side of the lobby. She stepped into a car, and he pushed his key into a slot in the control panel and punched in a few numbers. The top floor symbol lit up.
He was stepping out when she caught his arm. “Do not tell Damon I am back. It is to be a surprise, oui?”
And another well-aimed smile had him grinning back at her. “Oh yeah… sure.”
The doors slid shut, hiding his smiling face. And clutching her purse tight, Lilayni sagged back against the bronze handrail. She bit back her own grin of triumph. Best not get ahead of herself. Getting up to the penthouse was child’s play compared to what was to come. She still had to face Damon, and he wouldn’t be seduced by her smiles…
OTHER APPLEBY BOOKS
(Sophie and Marc)
Appleby Book 3
No man has ever chosen Sophie Harrington. Then one day fate throws the hottest man ever at her. But wealthy Marc Lewis needs a wife. A duchess or countess will do, but village girl Sophie will not. Can Sophie win him for a lifetime rather than just a few nights?